Millington: Skoal Racing preview

Skoal Racing teammates ready to challenge for Mid-South Nationals Funny Car win. MEMPHIS, Sept. 18, 2002 - When Tommy Johnson Jr. lost his bid for his first U.S. Nationals Funny Car win because he was late leaving the starting line, he promised...

Skoal Racing teammates ready to challenge for Mid-South Nationals Funny Car win.

MEMPHIS, Sept. 18, 2002 - When Tommy Johnson Jr. lost his bid for his first U.S. Nationals Funny Car win because he was late leaving the starting line, he promised changes would be made.

And two weeks later he showed off a much-improved starting-line performance.

"I went back to my natural instincts," Johnson said after leaving first against his two opponents in Monday's rain-delayed Lucas Oil Nationals at Reading, Pa. "I was bound and determined to make my routine at the starting line better. I wanted to find out what I was doing differently and why. It's all mental."

Johnson plans to continue his new approach during the O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals, Friday through Sunday, at Memphis Motorsports Park.

"Heck, I couldn't wait to get to Memphis before we ran at Reading," added the driver of the Blue Skoal Racing Camaro. "Now I'm really looking forward to it."

Johnson, who joined Ron Capps on Don "The Snake" Prudhomme's Skoal Racing team last year, has two major reasons for anticipating his return to Memphis - and it's not to visit Graceland. Two of his five career victories have come at MMP - the first in 1994, when he was driving his family-owned Top Fuel dragster, and the second came five years later in a Funny Car.

"I even ran well there when I was driving my alcohol dragster," Johnson recalled. "I think the tune-up we have now kind of fits the Memphis track. We hope the weather will be hot and humid because our car wants to run better in those conditions. Rob (crew chief Rob Flynn) has been working with the combination to improve our performance when the weather isn't hot and humid but we may not need it this weekend."

This is the second of three races in three weeks, making it easier for Johnson to continue fine tuning his starting-line regimen.

"I have John Force to thank for getting me back to my starting line routine," Johnson said of the driver who beat him in the U.S. Nationals finals with a slower elapsed time.

And, as things turned out, Scotty Cannon caught the brunt of Johnson's new approach. Johnson registered a .466 reaction in Monday's first round at Reading. Cannon, who had a .544, couldn't catch Johnson despite a run of 4.883 seconds at 307.23 mph to a winning 4.954 at 309.77.

Johnson had a .480 light in the second round, but a mechanical malfunction helped end his day against Del Worsham. "The rear seal on the engine broke and oil got into the clutch on that run," Johnson recalled. "That caused smoke to come inside the car. It was hard to see and the clutch started slipping at the hit of the throttle." That, in turn, slowed him to a 4.969-second effort to Worsham's 4.862.

The mechanical trouble will be remedied by the weekend, but Johnson's determination to continue getting good starts will only get better.

"I'm trying to stay calm and just do the job at the line," he said. And that, in turn, may lead to another victory at Memphis.

Green Skoal Racing Camaro's Performance Pleases Capps

With just five NHRA POWERade Series races remaining, Capps and his Green Skoal Racing crew would like to add another win or two, or three, etc., before the curtain falls on the 2002 campaign on November 10. Based on his outing Monday at Reading, Pa., there just might be more victories in store.

He advanced to the semifinals before the idler pulley broke, ending his competitive day. But not before crew chief Ed "Ace" McCulloch learned what to expect from different combinations he was using.

"What he found out during our first two rounds at Reading will help us at the next few races," said Capps. "We are trying some new things. Some work and some don't, but that's the only way we're going to improve. We are concentrating on making the car the best we can from the starting line to the finish line. We are going to get better.

"Ace made a good tune-up call Monday when racing conditions were completely different from qualifying conditions. It feels good going to Memphis now."

Capps was victorious at MMP in 2000, one of his 12 career Funny Car titles. He has one win (Columbus, Ohio) and one runner-up finish (Sonoma, Calif.) this year.

Capps ran two 4.894-second runs during qualifying at Reading, then ran his best time of the weekend - 4.880 seconds at 310.27 mph - in beating Cruz Pedregon in the opening round. He followed with a 4.949 decision over Todd Paton in the quarterfinals.

His race against Tony Pedregon in the semis was close until the idler pulley broke and he coasted to the finish line in 7.412 seconds to a winning 4.840.

"The incremental numbers said we were going to run a 4.85 or 4.86," noted Capps, "but I'm not sure we could've beaten his 4.84."

Capps and Johnson have chances to move up in the standings with good Mid-South outings. Capps trails sixth-place Scotty Cannon by 38 points (919-881) while

Johnson has his sights on eighth-place Dean Skuza, who has 824 points to Johnson's 809.

-sr-

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , Dean Skuza , Del Worsham , Ron Capps , John Force , Scotty Cannon , Cruz Pedregon , Todd Paton , Tommy Johnson Jr.